Los Alamitos Race Course received passing marks for its two-week Thoroughbred meet that ended July 13, but a track official conceded that there was room for improvement as the facility strives to become an equal partner on the Southern California racing circuit.
"We can certainly consider it a success but in some areas we were not as successful as we would have liked," Brad McKinzie, Los Alamitos Racing Association general manager, told the California Horse Racing Board during the board's meeting July 18 at Del Mar.
McKinzie said the track handled $6,347,000 per day over the eight-day meet that began July 3. On-track attendance averaged 3,566, he said, and those patrons wagered an average of $702,731 per day. McKinzie estimated that the handle total was about 65% of what shuttered Hollywood Park generated over the same period last year.
"It was a little less than what we thought we would do," McKinzie told the board.
This was the first meet held exclusively for Thoroughbreds at the Orange County track, better known as the state's nighttime Quarter Horse facility.
"I'm still bullish on the Orange County market," McKinzie said after the meeting. "But it's obvious it's going to take more work on our part."
McKinzie said field size was strong for the first week but fell off in the second week as horsemen prepared to head south for the more lucrative Del Mar summer meet. The final weekend July 12-13 included four races with four-horse fields and three other five-horse fields from 18 races overall.
He said Los Alamitos had trouble attracting customers from out-of-state brick-and-mortar satellite wagering facilities who were unfamiliar with the track and opted to wager elsewhere.
To change perception with out-of-state bettors, McKinzie said, "I think the best thing we can do is run more, which we are doing, and put on a better product. Without a better product, we aren't going to attract that market."
McKinzie said Los Alamitos also erred by taking "our core daytime satellite customers for granted. I think we failed to drive them to the live meet."
A more innovative approach to writing races could attract better fields, he said, noting, "It's a learning process."
"There are 3,000 horses in training in Southern California and we just need to find a way to get them into our races," McKinzie said.
The general manager said he was pleased with how the new one-mile oval performed.
"Not one horse or jockey hit the ground during the meet," McKinzie said. He said one horse that pulled up after a race had to be euthanized with a sesamoid bone injury.
In addition to the new track surface, Los Alamitos also expanded its barn area to accommodate Thoroughbreds and made numerous improvements to its grandstand area to enhance the customer experience, and did it all in about six months.
Commissioners were supportive, with chairman Chuck Winner saying, "We all congratulate you for what you have accomplished in a relatively short period of time. I know we all think you are doing a terrific job and wish you the best of luck in the future."
Added commissioner Jesse Choper: "The facility was in tip-top shape and I think you should be congratulated on that."
Another commissioner, Steve Beneto, challenged horsemen to provide better support for the track in the future.
They'll have a chance very soon. The board, which last month okayed a deal to move the three-week Los Angeles County Fair from Fairplex Park to Los Alamitos, Friday approved the 11-day meet license application, with the stand to run from Sept. 4-23.
The meet includes a new stakes race, the $200,000 Los Alamitos Mile, set for Sept. 20. That drew concern from Tom Ludt, president at Santa Anita Park, who noted that the Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I), the West Coast's major prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), is a week later. The timing, he said, could impact the success of both races.
After concerns about the timing of the race were also expressed by the Thoroughbred Owners of California, McKinzie said Los Alamitos is considering moving its new race up a week on the calendar.
The board also approved the fall meet application from Santa Anita, which includes the Breeders' Cup World Championships to be held at the Arcadia track for the third consecutive year Oct. 31-Nov. 1. The 23-day meet is to run Sept. 26 through Nov. 2. At the urging of commissioner Madeline Auerbach, Ludt said the track would consider adding a couple of dates on Sept. 25 and Oct. 29.
With the circuit currently racing to Del Mar, Santa Anita has embarked on a renovation of its main track, Ludt told the board. He said the top 18 inches of the old track would be removed and replaced by El Segundo dirt. During the process, the track would also undertake an inspection of the oval's drainage base.
On the front side, Santa Anita is constructing viewing suites and making other changes to add a customer dining area and other upscale amenities, Ludt said. He also said that negotiations to upgrade the backstretch stabling area are also in progress and promised to have an update on the situation for the board in time for its next meeting Aug. 21 at Del Mar.
Nate Newby, the vice president of marketing at Santa Anita, told the board that Santa Anita handled more than $1 billion in all-source wagering during its six months of racing from Dec. 26 through June 29, averaging just under $10 million a day during the period. That was an increase of 7% in all-source handle over what Santa Anita and Hollywood Park combined for during those same dates a year ago, he said.
For the upcoming fall meet, Santa Anita will have $1 million more for purses, racing secretary Mike Hammerle told the board, He said the funds would be distributed evenly between stakes and overnight purses, with 10 stakes to receive an additional $50,000 boost over last year.
Ludt reported a problem area on the hillside turf course that was due to so much use over the extended meetings has been addressed.
"It got a little hard, there's no doubt about it," Ludt said. "We're not making excuses. But I'm very confident in telling you we fixed it."
Elsewhere, Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of the Oak Tree Racing Association, told the board that the recently completed "Oak Tree at Pleasanton" meet at the Alameda County Fair posted a 6% overall increase in handle. Advance deposit wagering, in particular, was up substantially, he said.
"Our experience up there was very good," Chillingworth said. "We were received very well by staff and the directors."